‘I no longer feel safe’: Teens on El Paso-Juarez border respond to El Paso shooting

On the morning of August 3, 2019, a lone gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. About two miles away, Brianna Marquez, 19, was scrolling through social media posts on her phone when the news about the shooting appeared on her timeline.

"That morning started off as any other normal day," said Marquez. "Going on social media and reading about the shooting, my heart just dropped. Immediate fear and panic kicked in. I started to wonder if my loved ones were okay. I never imagined I would have to send anyone a message asking if they are safe and unharmed."

Fabian Mandujano, 15, who lives in the capital city of Chihuahua in the Mexican state of the same name across the U.S. border, was eating with his family at the Golden Corral in El Paso, about 15 minutes away from the Cielo Vista Walmart, when he heard the news.

In early August, it's common for U.S. and Mexican shoppers alike to flock to El Paso to take advantage of Texas's tax "holiday," which offers exemptions from state taxes on many back-to-school items, such as clothing, shoes, and backpacks.

Mandujano and his family began to hear ambulances and police sirens. Only minutes after, Mandujano saw videos and news online of the shooting and felt overcome by terror.

"The wild part about it was that after Golden Corral, we planned to go to that Walmart to finish our shopping," said Mandujano. "My family and I were scared that we might be in danger, so we decided to leave the stores we were shopping at and leave the city as soon as possible."

Karyna Luisana Arana Franco, 16, was at home in Ciudad Juarez, considered El Paso's sister city right across the border. She was on the phone with her friends, who collectively learned about the shooting that happened about 20 to 30 minutes from where she lived.

"Seeing what happened in El Paso, I felt a lot of anguish and sadness because El Paso is my neighbor and almost feels like my own city," said the teen who has a lot of family members living in El Paso. "I also felt scared because of other people I know that could be in danger."

As of Monday, August 5, according to tallies kept by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive (GVA), there have been 255 mass shootings in the U.S. this year. The GVA defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.

In addition to the high-profile mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, GVA reported Monday in a tweet that three other mass shootings occurred over the same weekend, which left two people killed and 17 others injured in Memphis and Chicago.

Marquez said she would like to believe the United States will soon come together and put an end to these killings, but she fears things will only get worse.

"It terrifies me to one day have kids, and for them to have to experience the cruelty that is out there," she said.

When Mandujano saw and experienced a shooter being in El Paso, he said it shocked him because it's not typical that this happens in El Paso, a city he always thought was safe and calm.

"Now the city is almost unrecognizable to me ... the unusualness of it all. Now the thought constantly enters my head, 'what will happen now,' and that's the thought that makes me feel unsafe in El Paso," Mandujano said. "From now on, this feeling of anguish will live on in all of us, such as in my relatives that live in El Paso or visitors that happened to be at the city that moment, like me."

Franco used to dream of being a student in the U.S., but now, she said, the shooting completely changed the way she sees the United States.

"I used to think that by crossing the border, I would be in a much more safe, and less risky place. But now I am scared of being in any location at the wrong time," said Franco. "I no longer feel safe."

"Coming to terms that this happened in my city breaks my heart," said Marquez. "We're such a close and loving community. I'm praying for my city to heal from the evil that took our peace."

Emily Flores, 18, is an iGeneration Youth reporter living in Austin, Texas.